Land O’Lakes

As I start this, I am finishing up my Helsinki, Finland, stay, where I’ve been from August 8th to September 9th.  It’s Thursday, I leave early Saturday morning, and anticipate a good 4-5 hours of sitting in the airport in Olso, Norway, waiting until I can go to my new place and check in.  So, if I don’t finish this before I leave Helsinki, I expect I’ll finish it soon after.

And now it’s Wednesday, the 13th, I’m in Oslo, Norway, and just finishing up this entry.  Time, huh?  Ain’t that somethin’?

I could blather on a bit about my current status, but at the end of the last blog I was leaving Croydon, England.  So, let’s just pick up from there and get on with it, shall we?  (I’ll take your silence as consent.)

Tuesday, August 8th — Arriving

Let’s see… what was my last line of that blog: “I got a nice window seat, folded my jacket behind me for lumbar support, and after a modest delay we were off to Finland!”

Did you spot the foreshadowing?  I’ll give you a clue: when you put something behind you, it’s remarkably easy to forget it exists.

You see it now, don’t you.  That’s right.  I’ve lost yet another jacket in transit.  Sigh.

Unlike the fuzzy trekking jacket I lost when leaving Edinburgh a year ago May, which I’m moderately sure was stolen, this loss was entirely my fault.  This was the remaining other half of my cool-weather ensemble, the browish/orangey windbreakery coat that I’d expected to sometimes need to wear over the trekking jacket and instead had been wearing on its own for the last year+.  When I don’t need to wear it for warmth, and if my bags are particularly full, I end up just carrying it, often tucked through the shoulder straps of my large pack and dangling at elbow-level.  This was what I was doing through Gatwick airport, and then I got on the plane, put my big pack overhead, the smaller one under the seat, and folded the jacket behind me to give better back support.

Cut to, what, 3 weeks later?  When I’m having my morning shower and for some reason the jacket ended up in my mind (maybe I was thinking about the weather?) and it crossed my mind that I wasn’t quite sure where I’d put it. Hanging in the closet? I… don’t think so. Folded in my pack? Um… no….  Where…?  I knew, even before I stepped out of the shower, exactly what had happened. Folded it behind me in the plane seat, enjoyed my now-more-comfortable chair for the 3 hour plane trip, landed in Helsinki, pulled my small pack on before rising to grab the large pack from the overhead, and left the plane with never a backward glance at my chair.

Sigh. Again.

I contacted Norwegian Air Shuttle to see if there was any chance they might still have it, and they directed me to the Helsinki Airport Lost and Found, which contracts out to some lost-and-found service, which had a website, where I put in a search request, at the cost of €5 (~$5.36).  I haven’t heard back yet, and don’t really expect to.  It’s been too long.

I should have known.  I spent that whole trip marveling at how smoothly and easily everything was going, from Airbnb door to Airbnb door the best trip ever, yada yada. Naturally, something had to go wrong, but it took me 3 weeks to learn what that something had been.  Still, if bad things have to happen invisibly to be discovered later, it could be a lot worse than an $80 jacket.

Like, as a totally random hypothetical, it *could* be a $4,600 tax bill added onto my 2015 taxes, apparently because my fancy financial services group reported income to the IRS that they didn’t tell *me* about, and apparently the IRS have only now figured it out.  Thanks fancy financial services guys.  And then the IRS sends me that notice mid-July, bill due mid-August, and it doesn’t reach my sister for her to tell me about until September 6th.  So, now I have a late IRS bill, for about 1/6 of my annual max budget, which I was already running over thanks to Europe being super expensive. Yay.

I’m thinking next year is *not* going to be a tour of the U.S.. It’s going to be to some place waaaay cheaper, either back to Asia or to Central America — Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, all of which come highly recommended as retirement destinations.  Did you know that Nicaragua is in the top-20 happiest countries?  Turns out, no more dictators and death squads!  In spite of that loss, I’m sure there’s still something for tourists to do — I won’t do it, of course, but it’s good to know it will be there for me to ignore.  (Having a rich supply of appealing things that I won’t do is a sure sign of a robust economy.)   BTW, the U.S. has dropped from 13 to 14 on that list in the last year — no way to know why, nope, no way at all — so I can clearly be nearly as happy in Nicaragua as I can in the U.S., but much less expensively.  That seems very appealing right now: live cheaply for a couple of years, come in under budget again, and then do the U.S. maybe in 2020, in time for the next election?    🙂

Anyway, it seems that I’ve gone off on a tangent.  Quelle surprise.

Back On Track

Back when I still had my jacket, this was how the world looked:

Possible captions:
(A) Land O’Lakes
(B) In Plane View
(C) A View With A Jacket

In case it looks like there’s a lot of water out there, there’s a good reason: there’s a lot of water out there.  Finland is know for having a lot of lakes.  In fact, the only 2 stories I’ve read that featured Finland both prominently involved Finnish lake houses (Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, and a short story that I read recently that I quite enjoyed but have literally no hope of remembering the author or the title of).  And the first weekend I was here, my hosts left to go to his parent’s lake house.  It’s like having a really big door in L.A.: you’re no one here unless you have a lake house.

But of the many things that Finland is known for, perhaps chief among them is it’s geographical location, as illustrated below:

Stuck between Sweden and Russia, and very much regretting the arrangement.

Finland is considered one of the Nordic Countries, although not actually part of Scandinavia (which are Norway, Sweden, and Denmark).  The current Finnish people are the same ones who first migrated there around 9000 BCE, in what a Finnish essayist I read claimed was the first of a long series of terrible decisions by his ancestors.  It’s certainly true that it’s cold for a lot of the year, and pretty damp thanks to all of the water, and the overcast days (of which there were many during my stay) are kind of dreary.  But it was also super lush and green and fairly cool for August, and I quite liked the weather.  Of course, the essayist was also referring to rather a lot of debatable history, as Finland tried to tack between Sweden, Germany, and Russia, often ruled over by one or the other.  They had their own streak of nationalism leading up to WWII; curiously, because the Finns are a genetically coherent ethnic group, their nationalist/racist movements look down on Swedes as much as they do on anyone else, leading to a weird reversal: a group of Teutonic people not being considered “pure” enough.

Anyway, Finland absorbed a lot of people and culture from the Swedes (the anti-Swede nationalists are a fringe group), while treating Russia with all of the resentful respect you’d give to a nearby den of rabid bears.  During the Cold War, Finland was famous for firmly adopting a neutral position between the superpowers (largely out of worry about antagonizing Russia), giving them a rather privileged status in international relations.  They made a considerable effort to develop out of the agricultural backwater that they’d been languishing in, did fairly well for a time, and now are struggling with a bit of a lagging economy.  But they have a lot of progressive social programs, and their educational system is world-famous.  (Which has the side effect that their kids grow up to be very able graduates who then leave for other European countries to get better jobs.)  But at least they speak excellent English which, let’s be real, is the important part.

BTW, I don’t mean that English is the national language of Finland, just in case there was any confusion.  That’s Finnish, an etymologically unique tongue that has the liquid sound of Portuguese and at least as many syllables and probably-unnecessary L’s as Welsh.

(I know, I’m giving an example of Welsh to illustrate Finnish, but it’s funny!  I also like the very subtle self-satisfied look of the weatherman, who knows he nailed it, is pretty stoked about it, but still plays it cool.  Good job, mate!)

Finnish also does not have articles (“a”, “the”), it has 15 grammatical cases (but no future case), and does not distinguish grammatically between male and female, even in personal pronouns — which may be why Finland was one of the first countries to give women the right to vote, and to have a female president.  The language has a lot of other quirks too numerous to list, and is considered one of the more complex for non-native speakers to learn — not at the level of Japanese, but close.

Anyway, on that map above, the capital, Helsinki, is marked by a star on the southern tip of the country and marked by architecture that can’t decide if it’s 18th century European, cinder-block Bauhaus, funky retro-60s, or glass-and-steel modern, and none of it felt like it fit well together. That, plus the economic strain on the country, may have been why I never felt quite comfortable there.  The landscape was beautiful, but the city felt, well, awkward and disjointed; the people were friendly, but kind of distant.  At the risk of getting ahead of myself, I’m unlikely to return.

Of course, those impressions were as yet unknown to me, as I boarded the metro train from the airport.  30 minutes took me to my neighborhood, and a 10 minute walk got me to my home for the month, here.  BTW, the Airbnb listing describes this as a “luxurious” room. It’s a nice room, to be sure, and quite comfortable.  For “luxurious”, though, I really need something more, like a more comfortable bed (it was perfectly fine, but nothing special), sliding closet doors that I don’t have to wrestle back onto their tracks myself, a fancier desk chair with better lumbar support, a fridge, tea kettle, and coffee machine in the room, and maybe an ensuite bath with a jacuzzi tub.  Oh, and a balcony.  “Luxury” really ought to mean more than “comfortable middle class bedroom”, which is what this was.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked the room.  It’s just the adjective that I dispute.

Not that I got to see the room immediately. When I booked the place, the primary host Jussi (the husband in the Jussi and Anna couple) warned me that this room was taken for the first few days of my proposed stay, but that if I was willing to bed down in the office for a few days then I could move in to my real room when it freed up. I said that would be fine, so he installed me in the office first, which was pretty nice: a large corner room with a huge desk and wall-to-wall windows filling the corner walls and trees all around.  Then, 2 days later, he moved me into a freed-up guest room, smaller, but still well windowed.  Then, 3 days later, I was in my intended room, the smallest of the 3.  All of that was fine, but there were some oddnesses about the place.  The listing used to have pictures of what appeared to be a deck, and a passing river, and lots of people sitting at a porch table outside the kitchen, and the whole thing seemed like a long-running BnB with lots of guests and an active community life, which seemed like an appealing change of pace for me.

Those pictures seem to be gone from the listing now.  The river is blocks away, the deck is still there (though it doesn’t have the view implied by the river pictures), the guests (myself included) were all either in their rooms with the doors closed or elsewhere, and Jussi later told me that he and Anna had encouraged that so that they could get their house back.  With their kids (from a few prior marriages) grown, they just rented out the upstairs room so as not to feel guilty about wasting the space (I’m sure the cash didn’t hurt either), but they really wanted to still be able to live their own lives downstairs.   So it wasn’t so much a big friendly community BnB, as much as it was a friendly-but-quiet, isolated space.  Which was fine, but not what I was expecting. (As is often the case.)

Anyway, I did have a few chats with Jussi, and at least one with Anna.  She was a library district manager, he was a retired IT manager and working on a book which (at the time of my arrival) was due at the publisher in a few days.  When I arrived, Jussi and I had a nice chat as he showed me around, but he had his book to work on and I did start to get the “I’ve really talked as long as I can” vibe pretty quickly, and I made a point of letting him go.  I’m better than some might expect at sensing that vibe, but very poor at figuring out how to end the conversation once I’ve sensed it.  With the result that we can be talking for several minutes while my mind is casting around for “How do I release this person gracefully?”  I’ve been testing, “Well, I’ve probably detained you as long as I should” language, and initial trials have been fairly successful.  But I’m always worried that they’ll think I’m ditching them, when in fact I’m just trying to free them before their vibe pushes towards “desperate”.

Before I released him, Jussi did tell me where a nearby grocery store was — kind of uncomfortably, as if it was an unusual question that he wasn’t sure how to answer.  So I walked there, back past the metro line and a few blocks more, to a little mini-mall with a weird, low-end, slightly dingy little grocery that I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to return to.  I discovered later that there was a *much* better one just 3 blocks further away, like a smallish Whole Foods, but I got enough groceries at the dingy place to hold me for a couple of days and that would do.  I wasn’t sure how the whole “eating” thing was going to go here, anyway: the kitchenette on the guest room floor was a tiny, barely equipped closet with a small fridge and I wasn’t sure I was going to have any space of my own in that fridge for salad fixings.   But there turned out to be a bit of unused space, so within a couple of days I’d packed it with my food and all was well with the world.

In theory, I could have gone to the convention center on the day I arrived, and registered for WorldCon early.  But that seemed unnecessary, so I settled in for the evening, ate, watched YouTube, and that was it for Day 1.

WorldCon 75

So, The 75th World Science Fiction Convention ran from Wednesday, August 9th, though Sunday, August 13th, at the Messukeskus Convention Center, about 2 train stops away from me. I think WorldCons used to alternate, a year in the U.S., then the next year in another country.  That seems to have changed to a more general bidding process and I’m not sure there’s any real pattern to it now.  But this year was Finland, next year will be San Jose, California, and the leading contender for 2019 seems to be Dublin.  New Zealand was also bidding, although possibly for 2020 (I think it was 2020, but I don’t remember clearly).  Members vote for the next site, and I’d have gladly voted for New Zealand, to have the excuse to go there.  But they were charging €30 just to cast your vote, and it hardly seemed worth it.

Since I the days when I was a geeky, awkward teenager, I’ve been to many conventions, including SciFi, Comics, Anime, New Age, and Film Festival, and they all seem to divide up into 4 types of experience:

  1. Staff — Steadily escalating frantic planning before hand, unremitting action during, lots of interaction with other staff, slightly numb eating together after its all over. If you’re disciplined about scheduling your own time, maybe you get to see a little content here and there between your duties.
  2. Professional — A mysterious experience that I have never been privy to, that involves very little “official” convention content, except when you’re a member of a panel, but lots of socialization with other professionals, usually in bars.
  3. Groups — Going with a bunch of friends is fun. You go to movies and panels together, you enjoy and/or mock the same content, eat and drink together during and after the day’s events, and generally have an extended party.
  4. Solo — The most alone you can be short of offending a prison guard and getting chucked into Solitary.  You drift like a ghost from panel to panel, trying to decide if the one you’re in was really the right choice, or if you should just be sitting in the screening room in the dark where at least you wouldn’t see (a) all the other people that surely *must* be more into this topic than you are, or (b) those who are clearly doing the fun Group thing.  In between, you eat the snacks you’ve brought with you or pay for overpriced convention food, which you eat at a table alone like the kid who was never in any of the lunch cliques at school.  Then you come back the next day and do it again, because you paid $95 for these tickets and by gods you’re not wasting them!  But hey, at least everyone around you smells really good. Oh, wait….

I’ve had experiences 1, 3, and 4, and I’ve noticed that 1-3 all involve you existing in your own subworld within the convention where you deal almost exclusively with your own people.  Whereas 4 involves the continuous reminder, over days of convention time, that everyone else has their own community except you.  Sucker!

I confess, I’d kind of forgotten the solo convention experience.  Also, the last SF convention I attended was back in college when everything was a novelty and the world was young. Now, I think I’m concluding that SF conventions are a bit more prone to having dreary panels than the anime or comic conventions that I’ve been to more recently.  I’m not sure why this is, but I have 3 theories.  The first is that the age group skews a bit older: there are plenty of folks in their teens and 20s, but I’d say the average age of the attendees was in the 30s, and there’s just a naive exuberance that gets lost as the age range moves up and everyone thinks they should be Adults.  The second is that SF people are more convinced that they have a Serious Literary Endeavor, one that also has Science!, which is Very Important And Superior, and so the topics are drier and are discussed more seriously, and the life is slowly sucked out of the room.  My third theory is that anime and comics are both visual media with lots of bright, primary colors: they’re just innately more enthusiastic subject matters.

Who would have thought that a presentation on gravitational wave detectors could be boring? Come on, guys!

I’m not saying that everyone was dull and dry.  At one physics panel I was in, a panelist made a great joke about non-falsifiability of proofs that went over like gangbusters in that room, and that was the moment that I *most* felt, “I’m with my true people.”  But it cannot be denied that, overall, it skewed dull-ward, and I spent several panels playing backgammon on my iPhone so that I could pay better attention — years of mandatory company meetings have taught me that a mindless game is a great way to distract the part of my brain that would otherwise wander, daydream, and then nod off.  I listen better when I’m playing than when I’m just sitting and staring at the speakers and gradually drifting off. #protip

While some of the panels were hideously dull, there were rather a lot of panels, often panels that I was interested in up that were scheduled up against each, requiring Hard Choices.  Do I see “Crackpot Archeology in Scandinavia”, “Make the Most of Your First WorldCon”, or “Nordic SF/F Now” — I have to choose, because they’re all Wednesday 2-3pm!  Do I go to “Obsolete Science Ideas”, or “Alternate Realities – 1” — and if I skip “Alternate Realities – 1” will I enjoy “Alternate Realities – 2” as much, or always wonder what my life would have been like if I’d chosen “- 1” instead?  They’re just aren’t any good answers.

Some things that you think will be entertaining really aren’t.  I thought “Asexuality in SF” would be interesting, but I have rarely heard a sex-related topic discussed as lifelessly.  Of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised: the topic is basically “People lacking a type of passion”, so it makes sense that the discussion should mimic the topic.  I did almost get into a Twitter argument about it, though, so that was exciting.  I posted my amused reaction to the panel on Twitter, and some random person leapt on it like they were itching for a fight:

I started off thinking that they were a bit slow, to not be getting the intrinsic humor of the statement.  Then, with their next reply, I realized they were walking around with a big defensive chip on their shoulder, and got very excited that maybe I was going to be in one of those Twitter pile-ons, where a bunch of randos get all upset over something you’ve said that’s fairly innocuous, and you have to deal with them flooding you with antagonistic comments.  I’ve seen those in action, but never been the target!  But, no, just one rando, soon dealt with.  My own fault, really.  I could have baited her more, and drawn her out, and maybe gotten some mileage out of it. But I just don’t have that sort of temperament.  Sigh.  Yet another wasted opportunity.

There were a couple of highlight panels: the Remembering Tanith Lee panel was cool.  She was one of my grandmother’s favorite SF authors, who died a couple of years back; she wrote a ton of books, and was extremely well regarded, but was never a huge seller.  The panelists had all known her in varying capacities, and had a bunch of stories about her, and that was pretty neat.  And there was a good science panel on habitable worlds, and what sort of variations of life might exist in more  extreme environments.  And in a few panels I took a bunch of notes of future books to read, and SciFi-themed anime to watch, so that was good.

There was a panel on the Kalevala, Finland’s mythological epic, that was quite good, presented in the context of the creators working on a multimedia adaptation of the epic, with a comic in progress and also a game and a movie planned.  This looked pretty interesting: it promises to be a kind of SF flavored adaptation, treating the Kalevala much as Zelazny’s Lord of Light or Grant Morrison’s 18 Days treated Hindu/Buddhist mythology.  The director was off to the side of that panel, mostly involved in changing slides while the comics creators did the talking.  He was the spitting image of a blonde Clark Kent, all glasses and blandly-attractive face and unassuming posture laid over a strapping frame that we were somehow not supposed to notice because “Superman doesn’t wear glasses so it can’t be him!”

Of course, there are *other* things to do at conventions besides panels.  The Dealer Room is usually a big deal, where you can buy all sorts of stuff associated with your favorite shows, books, or memes.  Of course, I don’t buy physical things anymore, so Dealer Rooms are of limited use to me now, but they’re fun to wander through.  Sadly, a scifi convention in Finland does not have a large population of local geek retailers to draw from, so the dealer room was not huge.

That said, it was not without things I totally *would* have bought, if I wasn’t living out of my backpack:

My kind of deity.

I believe this is from the TV show Vikings. They had a t-shirt too, which I would not really have bought even if I could carry it, as walking around with “Fuck Calm” on my chest isn’t really my style. Still, I heartily approve of the sentiment.

There’s also the screening room.  Big conventions often have 2 or 3 such rooms, and media conventions (like anime cons) have 4 to 6.  This had 1, and it wasn’t huge, but I spent some of the happiest hours there, watching often very good short films and generally enjoying not having to cue for seats in over-crowded panels.

There’s also author/creator signings, and panels, and the like. I did end up in a Charlie Stross reading from his next upcoming Laundry Files novel (an entertaining blend of Lovecraftian horror, spy thriller, and office-cubicle dystopia), and that was mildly amusing.  I don’t have anything to really get signed — Amazon should really add a signing feature to the Kindle and Kindle apps, where authors could sign the screen with their finger or stylus and Amazon uploads it to your account and keeps it with your copy of the book.  How cool would that be?!  (Super cool, that’s how cool.)  I skipped the George R.R. Martin panels, but he was a few feet away from me in the registration line when I arrived, so that was entertaining. I could have sworn that I had a picture of that… but whatever.  A Google Image Search for “George R R Martin standing in a line” will give you largely the same effect. 🙂

There were a couple of musical thingies going on: a goth music session and something else that I don’t recall, but they were at night. Also, I didn’t care.  And then there were the Hugos!

The Hugo Awards

The Hugos, as I’ve mentioned in prior posts, are science fiction’s Oscars.  There are other awards, like the Nebulas, and the Locus Awards, and the like, and some of them can claim to be more meritorious, but the Hugos are the ones that people know, when they know about such things at all.

The Hugo nominees and winners are picked by attending members: if you buy a ticket to the convention, you get to participate in both phases.  By the time I bought my ticket, the nominees were already out, and I was surprised to find that I’d already read a fair number of the nominees, books like All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, and novellas like The Dream-Quest of Vellit Boe, and Every Heart a Doorway.  Or movies I’d seen, like Arrival, Deadpool, and Rogue One.  Still, *most* of the nominees I had not read; thankfully, like the Oscars, voting members get packets with the nominees, so they can read and judge and vote (hopefully) intelligently (on a ranking of 1-6 in each category).

Mind you, not everyone votes intelligently.  This would go without saying if it weren’t for a couple of groups of small minded people known (and self-named) collectively as Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies.  (The Hugos wiki entry discusses these groups a bit.)  These are folks who seem to think that Science Fiction and Fantasy should be all about Strong Aryan Men who beat Evil with Big Swords or Ray Guns, and that SF/F used to be about that and none of this pansy Emotion, or Female Heroes, or Political Commentary, or Queers, or Multi-Culturalism.  Never mind that SF has always been about those things, going back to H.G.Wells’ The Time Machine, continuing through Star Trek and Dragonriders of Pern and The Left Hand of Darkness and Downbelow Station and so on, straight on up to present day.  The last 3-4 years of Hugos have been a bit turbulent, with groups of these people trying to game the system by voting in massed blocks for authors and works that they think fit their agenda — in a weird foreshadowing of the broader, modern political scene of resurgent nationalism/etc.  The mass voting block method worked a bit, in their first couple of tries, and they got some nominees into the lists that did pretty well, or managed to fill a couple of categories with only their nominees. (While exhibiting all of the good behavior and class that you’d find at a Trump rally.)

Unfortunately, for them, The Hugos have a No Award category, that you can vote for if you think none of the nominees are deserving enough, and Puppy nominees have been losing to No Award almost exclusively.  That, plus some voting-rule tweaks have made gaming the system much harder, and in the 2017 voting results, every Puppy candidate fell below No Award in the rankings.  And the major winning authors were almost exclusively women and people of color, writing largely Ray-Gun-Free books.  (Yaay us!)  So the Puppies’ day looks to have come and gone.

(BTW, the best line I heard about those deluded reactionaries came in one of the WorldCon panels: “There were more brown people in medieval Europe than there were potatoes, and yet no one gets upset if your fantasy novel includes potatoes.”  Nice.)

Hugo politics aside, while I was in Edinburgh, I spent rather a lot of time reading through as much of the nominee list as I could — which was quite a lot, really, and for the most part it was all wonderful.  A huge batch of very entertaining books, stories, graphic novels, and the like, all included in the $95 ticket price.  The timetable involved made some of it feel a bit like homework, but by and large it was all just riveting science fiction and fantasy, and left me with a lot of notes for future reading and new authors to pursue further.

I did my best to read everything and vote intelligently…  but sometimes I had to throw up my hands and let a category go.  Like Best Editor Short Form: the packets for the nominees had selections reaching to thousands of pages of stories that they’d edited in the last year.  Even if I read them all — and I did *not* have time to do that — how would I know what was to the original writer’s credit, and how much was due to the editor?  Most of the great writers I know speak glowingly of the benefits of a good editor, so I don’t doubt the editor’s contribution to the finished text.  But as a reader trying to judge what that contribution to the text was…. it’s like watching a movie and trying to guess if you don’t like an actor’s performance because they were bad at their craft, or because the dialog they were given was bad and/or intrinsically hard to deliver well, or because they’re being given bad direction.  I’m sure there are people who can judge those things well, but I am not one of them.  So I left one Editor category blank, and the other I ranked as best I could simply so that I could cast a vote for the Puppy guy to be below No Award, because I was determined that Bad Behavior Should Not Be Rewarded.

(I did, by the way, read the Puppy nominee for Short Story.  I knew of the author and his rather horrific views on a variety of things, but I wanted to be fair — maybe it was well written?  Talent and virtue are hardly married to each other.  In this case, both were absent.  It. Was. Terrible.  Amazingly so, considering how good the other nominees were.  Like, even the ones I hadn’t been wild about were generally well written, just not written to my taste.  This wasn’t written to any sane person’s taste, being an overdrawn thinly veiled metaphor about political correctness that beat its point into the ground in some of the most painful prose I’ve read in decades.  If I *wanted* a story to prove my own virtuous commitment to giving a suspect author a fair shake, I could hardly have asked for better. I felt truly ennobled by my effort.  I hope to never again be so ennobled.)

I left the Fanzine category blank, because I just ran out of time to read the samples.  I left the Best Dramatic Presention, Short Form blank too — TV series episodes, basically — because I hadn’t seen any of them and couldn’t see searching out and watching a single episode out of context and being able to judge its merits properly.

Some things I hadn’t read or watched, but felt I could make an educated judgement about.  Hidden Figures is a good example, a movie about the black women who were critical in making the moon landing happen.  I’m perfectly prepared to believe it’s a great movie, but it’s an historical drama and not really Science Fiction. So I placed it below No Award.  There were podcasts that I hadn’t listened to, but the subject matter of one sounded more interesting than the subject matter of another, so I could rank my preferences.  I’d read neither Ursula K LeGuin’s Words Are My Matter, nor The Geek Feminist Revolution, but I can guarantee that I’ll like the former more than the latter. I approve of the latter, of course, but to read a documentary book about it sounds unbearably tedious.

“Here’s a good thing!”
“Awesome. I’m glad it exists. 🙂 ”
“Let me tell you all the details!”
“Gosh, I’m not sure I have time for that.”
“But it’s wonderful, let me persuade you!”
“Not necessary, I agree with you already. Totally.”
“But I want to tell you about it. I have slides!”

(Yes, I know there are people who enjoyed the book — Jenni 👀 — and I rejoice in their happiness.)

In case you’re interested, here’s a link to the Google Docs spreadsheet I built to keep track of the nominees and my rankings as I read through them.  After the convention, I went through and added the actual awards results to the list, all ranked 1-6 (or 1-7, when No Award mattered).  It was comforting to see that, while my number 1 picks didn’t win most of the time, most of my top picks matched most of the final top ranks.  (The notable exception was the Best Novel winner, where Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate won despite being my 5th place pick. I do believe that it was probably that good, she’s a great author. But it’s the 2nd book in a series that I hadn’t read, so I really couldn’t read it, and I placed it below other good books that I had read.)  But most of my best picks placing well is all that my delicate sense of self-worth really needs to get by on, so I’m taking the whole thing as a win.

BTW, I didn’t go to the actual awards show.  It was at night, and I couldn’t see sitting through the whole thing when most of the presentation would end up online where I could watch it at my convenience, AND the results would be summarized for me the next day if I were patient enough. Which I am.

A Book

I really feel as though I ought to review at least 1 thing from the exhaustive Hugo reading list, but it’s kind of hard to pick from all of that great material.  I’m choosing to go with Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee, my pick for Best Novel (as I write this, $5.24 for the Kindle edition on Amazon).

It’s set in a far future, interstellar empire where the technology is largely based on consensual reality: how people think about the universe is leveraged to alter physical laws.  As a consequence, the conflicts involve changing people’s viewpoints about common assumptions — the central one being the calendar(!) — and supporters of alternate calendars are ruthlessly suppressed as dangerous heretics who would bring down not only the political structure but the technological underpinnings of society.

In that world, a woman military commander with a knack for performing the complex calculations needed to invoke changing realities on the battlefield, is recruited to lead a force to break into an impregnable fortress taken over by the enemy.  To do that, she recruits the empire’s most dangerous enemy, a general who never lost a battle until he became a mass murderer, and whose body was destroyed and now only exists in prison as a consciousness — one that can be joined to hers if she can withstand his influence and work with him to win the seemingly unwinnable battle.

In short, there’s a lot going on here.

I really like books that give me new ideas, and this played with a *lot* of them.  And it was well written and witty and the characters were multi-dimensional and there were layered mysteries that peeled back only slowly.  Some of those mysteries are still opaque: it’s the first book of a series, and though this novel was pretty well self-contained and can easily be enjoyed on its own, there’s clearly a lot more to go in the overall story.  I’m really looking forward to the rest of them, and it became my number 1 pick (and took #3 in the Awards results).

BTW, I did really like the books I ranked 2-4 (I didn’t read 5 & 6, but they were both 2nd novels in their series), and if you’re inclined to read any of them, you can hardly go wrong doing so.  I might be a bit cautious about Ada Palmer’s Too Like The Lightning, though.  It’s another super clever and inventive book with a lot of new ideas — and it won the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer — but it’s the first book of a pair, the 2nd’s not out, and the tone of the book was already morphing towards the end into something that might well turn out to be disillusioning and unpleasant.  So I cannot yet assure you that it will be a pleasant read, just a technically very good one.

And that’s where I’m going to end this post.  In the next one, I’ll cover my post-conventional Helsinki experience, and I’ll get to that as soon as possible since, after all, Norway awaits!

 

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